Attachment and Infant Mental Health

Circle of Security and Attachment

Circle of Security Groups (2015)

Helen Stevens from Safe Sleep Space and Carol Newnham will be conducting Circle of Security programs in August 2015 for all parents, including those who have had a premature baby. Please contact us for dates and enrollment details

Enhancing secure attachments with premature children

Intimate attachments to others are the hub of our lives – when we are babies, toddlers, school children, adolescents, adults and even into old age. When our relationships are OK, we are OK.  So much else flows from our underlying sense of security in relationships – the ability to learn, to remember, to form friendships, to be assertive, to understand and follow rules, to “fit” with others in our world.

The learning to be part of happy, secure relationships starts right from birth. It is in the drip, drip, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, experience with our parents that we learn that we can (or cannot) rely on others and relax with them.  We might, as loving parents, think this should be easy. For some parent-baby pairs it is very easy, because they naturally seem to fit together.  However some parents have not learned to have secure attachments with their own parents (about 40% of us), and some babies are really difficult to fit with, through no fault of their own.

Premature babies and parents seem to be at-risk for less-than-optimal attachments. It is no-one’s fault. Both parents and babies have had a really tough start to their lives together.

The Circle of Security program helps parents understand what is happening to their child or baby, and to themselves, in the everyday moments of their lives together. When babies’ and children’s needs are understood, parents are more able to help their child. Not only will many so-called behaviour problems be avoided, the child will learn how to rely on (feel secure with) their parents and also others in their world. The “how to” relationship learning that happens in infancy then generalizes into all other friendships and relationships.

The Circle of Security training for parents is based on the following assumptions:


·         A child’s ability to learn well occurs from within a secure- base relationship. Little children need to move away from their parents to explore and learn about the world. They will be happier doing this if they know their parent is watching over them and that they can come running back to loving arms when the world scares or wears  them out. This knowledge then translates into a freedom and joy in exploring and sharing what they find.


·         The quality of the early parent-child attachment relationship plays a significant role in the life trajectory of the child. Studies have found that children with early secure attachments are protected from the fall-outs of life stressors. We will all experience stresses – nothing can protect us from them. Sadly, children with insecure attachments are at higher risk of these fall-outs, including problems with  social competence with peers and teachers, impulse control, conduct disorders, anxiety, depression, dissociative disorders, and other psychiatric and legal problems.


·         The quality of the parent/child attachment, can change. A secure attachment pattern is related to concrete, definable parental skills, caregiving patterns, and internal working models. Parents sometimes need help to understand what these skills and patterns are, and how they are so important in the relationship with their child.


·         Lasting change comes from parents developing specific relationship skills rather than learning techniques to manage behaviors. These skills include:


-       Observe a child’s behavior and to understand how it fits within the child’s current developmental abilities

-       Reflect on what a behavior might mean

-       Help their child regulate (take control over) emotions

-       Empathize with their child


In 2015 Helen Stevens from Safe Sleep Space and Carol Newnham will be conducting Circle of Security programs for all parents, including those who have had a premature baby. Please contact us for dates and enrolment details